With the weather turning quite brisk today, it's almost hard to remember that back in stifling July heat, many neighborhoods were without power for days and days. Almost. Yesterday, Con Ed released a 600 page report detailing what happened, why they decided not to shut down the network, and why trying to fix the problem caused delays. All in all, Con Ed is saying it wasn't really their fault - it was the equipment! Please, Con Ed needed 600 pages to come up with that excuse? Anyway, the NY Times summarizes what Con Ed says happened:
According to the report, three unrelated events on July 17 combined to knock out five feeders. The first event was a fire, around 3:50 p.m., that broke out in an underground conduit near 30th Avenue and 44th Street when a low-voltage secondary cable short-circuited. The fire damaged two of the primary feeders, causing both of them to fail in a 32-minute period. More than two hours later, at 6:48 p.m., a third feeder failed.
A circuit breaker in the substation was supposed to isolate that third feeder and take it off the network. It failed to do so, and as a result a backup breaker opened, taking down that feeder and two others.
When workers tried to restore one of the five feeders to service, an “inrush,” or a sudden surge of current, further complicated repairs. Ultimately, 13 of the 22 feeders failed at some point in the blackout, and on two occasions, 10 were out at once.
The Post called the report dimwitted" while the Daily News says it's "baffling" how "a small fire in a low-voltage cable led to a widespread system failure, and why Con Ed underestimated the thousands of Queens residents left stranded in the dark during the hottest stretch of summer." And you know what Con Ed will do?
The report also outlines plans for reducing the potential for a similar outage, including:
- Upgrading equipment within the northern Queens substation, and at others around the system;
- Investing $58 million in the Long Island City network;
- Studying advancing the construction of a new substation in northwest Queens, based on enhanced reliability to customers by the summer of 2007.
To assist customers during outages, Con Edison is:
- Adding 250 telephone lines to our call centers, increasing them to 650 phone lines;
- Installing a better system to track outages;
- Improve the interactive automated system for customers to report electrical outages;
- By next summer, reviewing the feasibility of installing electric meters that could alert the company when a customer is out of service.
More phone lines at the call centers and waiting for upgrades and a new substation! New Yorkers, Con Ed wants you to be grateful for that!
City politicians are also upset with the report; City Councilman Peter Vallone said, "This report blames the cables underground without blaming the people that allowed those cables to rot." City Councilman Eric Gioia mentioned the report's heft, “This report is a lot of pages, but not a lot of answers. t seems to be a corporate smokescreen, crafted by lawyers to avoid responsibility and confuse readers.” And some pols are wondering why Con Ed didn't shut down the grid for one day - leaving at least 100,000 people without power - in order to avoid the lingering blackout. Con Ed's response - hundreds of thousands of other people avoided having a power outage - but it makes you wonder, 100,000-300,000 people without power for over a week or 1 million people without power for a day.
The city and state are conducting their own investigations into the power outage. Con Ed's CEO Kevin Burke tried to appeal to Con Ed customers, but most of them are still pissed that the credits to their bill are so small - $3 for residents, $6 for businesses, and $250 for large businesses. And the city will be using its own information from now on about future power outages.
Gothamist on the Queens power outage.
Graphics above from Con Ed's monster report; the left graphic shows feeders working (the green ones) on July 17, but the graphic on the right shows outages (black dots and lines) on July 18